I’m a fan of top-10 lists at the best of times, but even more so when it’s the list of top-10 most complained about books. Emanating from America (where else?), this annual list ranks the books that most offended conservative sensibilities and, frankly, inspires my next years’ reading list.
When will the self-appointed gatekeepers of our moral chastity learn that there’s no such thing as bad publicity and vocally, publicly calling for the ban of a book causes us not to shun the book with moral indignation but rather run towards with open eyes and arms?
And when will they realise that they might be complaining not because books are bad, but because they hold up a mirror to the less-desirable aspects of our lives; that they contain and force us to acknowledge and address some uncomfortable truths?
I like to think I’m across most new releases and books earning others’ ire, but I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I know just two of the books on the 2010 list.
Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World came in at third for insensitivity, offensive language, racism, and sexual themes. I’m scratching my head about what’s so overwhelmingly, ban-worthy offensive of any of those aspects, but particularly the ‘insensitivity’ one. Insensitivity? What kind of offence is that?
Brave New World has always felt like a book that had to be read during school—everyone else seemed to do it, but it wasn’t on my school’s reading list—and the book seems to have passed my reading habits by. About a year ago I even bought a copy, but it’s gotten no further than staring down accusingly from my bookcase.
Its inclusion on the Won’t Somebody Think of the Innocent Children list (or something equally moral-panic appropriate), however, has snapped me to attention. Enough fiddle farting around: You try to ban it? I’m inspired to down tools and read the book immediately.
Clearly I’m not the only one who finds this list inspiring. There’s an annual Banned Books Week (running from 24 September – 1 October 2011), which supports and celebrates the freedom to write and read what we like (or sometimes what we don’t like but can learn from). Moreover, the list of most-moaned-about books of all time actually reads like a what’s what of our great literary works: The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Lord of the Flies, 1984, Catch 22, Animal Farm, Slaughterhouse Five, and The Lord of the Rings to name but a few.
Whether the complaints helped catapult these books into popular consciousness and popularity or whether one person’s ban-worthy book is another’s treasure, I don’t know. Admittedly, not everything that’s on the 2010 list is going to be heralded as great writing in years to come.
Speaking of which … Twilight (the only other book I recognised) rounded out the top 10. I’m not surprised that there were complaints about it, although for most people those would be confined not to if-you-read-it-backwards Satan-laden messages, but to the fact that it’s so very badly written and so incredibly, clunker-laden clichéd.
Besides, it’s largely sex-less, with characters adhering to old-fashioned Mormon values like their author. It’s amusing to me, then, that the complaints camp are essentially trying to ban a book by one of their own.
My friend and fellow writer Ben told me he once had a teacher who asked everyone to point out the naughty parts of the book. This sent the students scurrying to not only absolutely devour the book, but to pay very close attention to it. It was a win for all parties and a reading equivalent of sneaking the vegetables past the fussy eaters—something that I think should be applauded. If it takes a couple of swear words to do so? That’s ok with me.
Me? I’m adding the 2010 books on this list to my to-be-read pile (that is, after I add them to my how-did-I-not-know-about-them one). And for the record: if I ever get a book published, I’ll be hoping, wishing, praying, and anything else in between that someone tries to ban it.